The Transportation Security Administration has bad news for tens of millions of Thanksgiving holiday travelers: Lines at airports may be even longer than usual as the agency tries once again to plug security holes in its baggage screening.
TSA is scrambling to respond to yet another damning investigation of its screening effectiveness, for the second time in little more than two years. And the agency is already phasing in revised security procedures — including those for passengers’ electronic devices — that could cause “a slight increase in wait times,” new TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in an interview.
“The procedure is new,” Pekoske said. “It’s new to passengers. It’s somewhat new to our screeners.”
The additional delays may not be as horrendous as the hourslong queuesthat left many passengers stranded at airports in the summer of 2016, a year after TSA leaders launched a crash course in security improvements in response to a previous failing grade from its inspector general.
But Pekoske said travelers could experience some of the longest wait times of the year on Sunday when many return home from the holiday. TSA has projected that more than 2.6 million passengers and airline crew members will be screened on Sunday alone, potentially making it one of the agency’s top five busiest days ever.
The squeeze is the latest example of a predicament TSA has faced since its creation in 2001: trying to balance effective security with the need to move travelers efficiently through checkpoints. Obama-era TSA chief Peter Neffenger said the agency has spent almost all of its short lifespan fighting for the resources it needs — but when he reviewed what caused the poor performance in the 2015 audit, he found a “disproportionate emphasis on efficiency over effectiveness.”
“There was a lot of pressure, we thought, on the checkpoint agents to keep people moving,” he said. “We also found that we didn’t have as consistent and coordinated of a training system as I would have liked to have seen.”
Neffenger added that he had hoped that TSA’s performance would have improved by now.
Most details of the latest IG audit, released Sept. 27, are classified, but media reports indicate that TSA failed somewhere between 70 percent and 80 percent of covert tests, allowing fake explosives, firearms and other prohibited items to slip through undetected. That’s only slightly better than the 95 percent failure rate that TSA suffered in its 2015 audit by the IG.